When Jhett Johnson pulled into the Qwest Center in Omaha on the last week of ProRodeo's regular season for the Ariat Playoffs of the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour hosted by the River City Roundup, he had a couple things pressing on his mind.
First, he was 19th in the world standings-four holes out of a Wrangler NFR berth. It wasn't crunch time because he would more than likely qualify for the final playoff stop in Dallas. Nevertheless, the faster a cowboy gets off the bubble for qualifying for the Finals, the better.
The second thing on his mind was the fact that he and header Keven Daniel-an Altha, Fla., native who finished in the crying hole (16th) last year-hadn't roped together inside at a quick, NFR-type set up.
After Johnson spent the winter roping with other partners and battling through an appendectomy, he and Daniel didn't begin roping until the spring, outdoor rodeos.
"We practiced for it, but you don't really know how good your fast run is," Johnson said.
To be fair, Daniel had some heavy stuff weighing on his brain, too. After coming so close in 2006-and winning the PRCA Resistol (header) Rookie of the Year title at 27 years old last year-he wanted his first qualification badly and he wanted his heeler in Vegas with him.
Entering Omaha, he was ranked 12th in the world standings, safely in with only one weekend of rodeos left and most of his competition in the playoff pipeline (Omaha and Dallas) already ahead of him. However, he had developed quite an affinity for his Wyoming heeler and wanted Johnson, who he trusted and built his confidence with, heeling behind him under the bright lights.
"It was the most important thing," he said. "I told my girlfriend earlier in the week that I really wanted to do good here because it's just the confidence of roping with him all year."
From the beginning, things shaped up in their favor. The building ropings-especially in a pressure-packed elimination-style playoff environment-can be unpredictable in the team roping. The rounds can be extremely fast and leave good solid 5- and 6-second runs out of the money. Or, they can fall apart.
In the first round in Omaha, the latter happened. Half of the runs included penalties. And one team, Tommy Edens and Coby Jones, had their steer fall down and heeler Jones had to wait for him to get back up to heel him, 22.4 seconds later.
Daniel and Johnson had the benefit of watching all this happen and simply made an under-the-radar 5.3-second run. David Key and Kory Koontz won the round with a 5.0.
"I'll tell you what helped us out, and it's just a testament to team work, we drew up at the end of every round, so we had a pretty good idea what it would take to place the first night and we executed a good run, a 5.3," Johnson said. "We came in third the next night and got to go at the end again. We knew what would do good and were 5.1. In the semifinals, it kind of looked like it was opening up and Speedy went 4 flat and I thought it might get a little tougher and we just made a real solid run, 5.1."